HL Deb 19 May 1981 vol 420 cc888-93

6.53 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I beg to move that the draft European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Accession of the Republic of Zimbabwe to the Second ACP-EEC Convention of Lomé) Order 1981, which was laid before this House on 30th April, be approved.

I would also draw the attention of your Lordships to the three treaties listed in the schedule to the order. Item 1 in the schedule is the Accession agreement itself (contained in Cmnd. No. 8150); item 2 provides for unrestricted access for products from Zimbabwe in the area covered by the European Coal and Steel Community (this is contained in Cmnd. No. 8151); and item 3 deals with the manner in which the Community's aid obligations to Zimbabwe under the Accession Agreement will be implemented (contained in Cmnd. No. 8219). The House will be aware that the effect of the order will be that these agreements will be able to operate in this country in accordance with their provisions.

The accession of Zimbabwe to the second Lomé Convention is a step of great significance: it is, on the one hand, a mark of Zimbabwe's place in the world, and, on the other, evidence of the further development of the Community's relations with the developing world. As so often in her short history, Zimbabwe's relationship with the Community is something of an exception: she is one of the very few countries which had has the opportunity to accede to the Lomé Convention although she was not listed in the Treaty of Rome as the dependent territory of a member state.

The Government naturally took a special interest in the preparations for the negotiation of this agreement. As soon as we could we prepared the ground by steering through a special régime for Zimbabwe's trade with the Community which took effect in January 1980. This régime gave Zimbabwe roughly equal treatment with those dependencies of member states which are associated with the Community through what is known as the OCT (the overseas countries and territories) decision; that is, the dependencies of member stafes. This in turn largely mirrors the trade provisions of the Lomé Convention. Through this interim régime, the Zimbabwe Government was able to learn at first hand the extent of the privileged trade access to the Community enjoyed by the ACP (the African, Caribbean and Pacific) states which are signatories to the Lomé Convention. It should be noted that the application to accede to the second Lomé Convention was one of the earliest decisions taken by the Government to Zimbabwe after independence. This is clear evidence of the value the ACP states put on Lomé membership.

The Community was equally well aware of the importance of Zimbabwe's accession, in particular its political importance. There is a clear European interest in ensuring the emergence of a stable Zimbabwe firmly linked to Europe both politically and economically. Association with the Community through the Lomé Convention, with all the advantages that that gives the ACP, is the natural instrument for this purpose.

Once Zimbabwe had joined the ACP Group of states and her application to accede to Lomé had been approved by the ACP/EC Joint Council of Ministers in Nairobi in May 1980, the next step under the provisions of the Convention was to negotiate an accession agreement with the Community. It was clear from the start that the negotiations would not be easy. Many of Zimbabwe's major exports are product-sensitive for certain Community member states. For example, sugar for France and Belgium; beef for France and Ireland; and tobacco for Italy. But every member state recognised in the end that the political prize at stake far outweighed any small economic cost, and agreement was finally reached.

Throughout the negotiations which lasted from June to October 1980 we kept in close touch with the Zimbabweans so that we could give them any advice they sought on the conduct of the negotiations and could ensure that the outcome of the negotiations was satisfactory for them.

Under the Interim agreement at present in force between the Community and Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe enjoys access for her exports to the Community market which is virtually identical to that provided for in Lomé II; that is, free access for most Zimbabwean agricultural exports, and all her industrial goods, subject only to the safeguard provisions of the convention. Once the accession agreement is in force Zimbabwe will be able to benefit from all the provisions of Lomé II, as well as the special provisions of the agreement itself.

The benefits of greatest importance to Zimbabwe are, first, sugar. The Zimbabweans made it clear from the beginning of the negotiations that access for their sugar was their major interest in Lomé. The Zimbabwean Government hopes to find employment for large numbers of displaced Africans, perhaps as many as 500,000, in an expanded sugar industry. But secure markets are essential if that planned expansion is to succeed. In the negotiations the Community recognised that, by virtue of her former membership of the Commonwealth Sugar Agreement, Zimbabwe was entitled to be allocated a quota of sugar which she could sell to the Community. The quota of 25,000 tonnes which was agreed is equivalent to the old Commonwealth Sugar Agreement quota. Zimbabwe will have the right to sell 25,000 tonnes of sugar to the Community annually from 1st July 1982, on price conditions equivalent to those set out in the Sugar Protocol to the Lomé Convention. The Community has also agreed that Zimbabwe should become a member of the Lomé Sugar Protocol. This will have to be negotiated with the ACP in due course.

Beef. This is also an important product for Zimbabwe. In the accession agreement Zimbabwe has been granted an annual quota of 8,100 tonnes of beef and veal which she will be able to export to the Community once she can meet the Community's animal health requirements. There is provision for review of the quota after two years.

The question of tobacco exports is of particular interest to Zimbabwe. Under the provisions of Lomé II, Zimbabwe's tobacco exports automatically enjoy duty-free access to the Community market. But in order to allay the concerns of Community tobacco producers, it has been agreed that consultations will be held with the ACP producers if ACP imports should be shown to cause problems. The Government will, of course, take into account the interests of United Kingdom tobacco manufacturers in addition to those of Zimbabwe and other ACP producers.

Once the accession agreement is in force, Zimbabwe will also be able to benefit from the aid provisions of Lomé. The Community has agreed to enlarge the European Development Fund, through which Lomé aid is channelled, by 85 MECU (not far short of £50 million) to take account of Zimbabwe's accession. Of this, 40 MECU has been allocated for Zimbabwe's country programme and 30 MECU for regional projects.

The Community will also propose to the ACP that Zimbabwe should be included in the list of landlocked ACP states in Article 155(3)(b) of Lomé II. This will ensure that particularly favourable consideration is given to Zimbabwe's needs as regards a wide number of provisions of the convention, in particular those concerning the application of safeguard measures, derogations from the rules of origin for Zimbabwe's exports to the Community, and the Stabex Scheme (which is designed to compensate the ACP for fluctuations in earnings from exports of certain products to the Community) and the Sysmin Scheme (which is intended to provide some support to certain ACP minerals industries in times of difficulty). In the application of these two schemes a lower level of dependence on the products concerned than that applied to other ACP states will enable Zimbabwe to qualify for assistance. In addition to Zimbabwe's aid allocation under Lomé II, the Community has also made substantial aid funds available to Zimbabwe in advance of accession and 13 MECU (some £7 million) has been allocated to her to help in post-war reconstruction and rehabilitation, and at ZIMCORD, the recent donors' conference in Salisbury, the Community pledged a further 14.5 MECU (some £8 million).

I hope, with this additional information, that the order will commend itself to your Lordships. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 30th April be approved.—(Lord Skelmersdale.)

7.3 p.m.

Lord Goronwy-Roberts

My Lords, the House will be very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, for the lucid and very informative way in which he introduced this order which, I hasten to assert from this side of the House, meets with our enthusiastic approval. I gather that the other place stole a march on us this morning but there was not time for either the noble Lord or I to find out what they have made of the order. I doubt if any difficulty arose during their discussion.

The purpose of the order, of course, is common form. The agreements between Zimbabwe as an applicant and the EEC and its member states have to be squared, as it were, with the relevant sections of our own Act, the European Communities Act 1972, whereby those treaties are implemented. This order is essential for that purpose and I think it is the last thing we need to do in order to make the accession effective.

I see that Zimbabwe applied to accede to Lomé II soon after independence, I think, in April 1980, and that the agreements to accession were signed in Luxembourg in November last year. Obviously various parts of the sections of the agreements will come into effect on various dates, and the Minister has indicated one or two transitions which will take some months to effect. I was particularly impressed in this regard to hear of the way in which this country has helped the Zimbabwean officials and Government to negotiate their accession. This country, since independence, has extended quite substantial financial aid to the new republic, the new member of theCommonwealth. It has also assisted them in other very essential ways by advice and guidance, and I am sure this is deeply appreciated in Salisbury.

As the Minister has pointed out, there is no doubt that Zimbabwe stands to gain very much from Lomé II in trade co-operation, in financial and technical aid and also by means of the Stabex scheme, designed to stabilise ACP export earnings from certain commodities—in this case particularly beef, sugar and tobacco.

Stepping right outside the Lomé traditions, may I once more suggest to Africa as well as to Western Europe, and indeed to the Commonwealth and to all countries concerned with the future of Zimbabwe and therefore of Central Africa, the possibility of special arrangements whereby certain surpluses in Zimbabwe—these days we have maize very much in mind—could be made available to contiguous countries who suffer very often from devastating famine through lack of staple foodstuffs. I know this does not precisely come within the terms of the order, or indeed within the terms of the Lomé Convention, but I think this possibility is rightly raised—in other words, we expect countries including those in Africa, to apply themselves to the possibility of other forms of aid to advance African prosperity, perhaps through special assistance to a specific member of that community.

The Minister also gave details of the financial help which the Fifth European Development Fund will make available to Zimbabwe. It is gratifying to see that the increase in the funds corpus will be funded as to 80 per cent., or some £88.5 million, by this country. I would repeat that, all told, the British contribution to Zimbabwe since independence is very substantial and it is of course well worth making the point that the viability and stability of Zimbabwe is essential not only to the progress of its own people but to that of central Africa as a whole. A chaotic and poverty-stricken Zimbabwe would very soon add to the already very difficult problems of Central and Southern Africa, and it is most encouraging to see how since last April, politically and economically, there has been this wise guidance and statesmanship in Zimbabwe leading to an increasingly stable state,which in turn contributes to the stability of a very important part of the world politically and economically.

Zimbabwe, of course—many Members of this House who have lived and worked there will know those who have made a tremendous contribution to the country—has very great potential mineral and agricultural wealth. Its agricultural surplus, as I mentioned, could well be used so as to alleviate serious discrepancies in the supply of food in other African countries. But, of course, a larger amount of financial and technical aid would be necesssry to effect such a programme than is envisaged even in this very promising and very acceptable system that we are discussing. Indeed, a good deal needs to be done, and a good deal of finance and technical aid needs to be devoted to the development of transportation if these surpluses—which are bound to recur and possibly increase in the future—are to be used meaningfully so as to rebound to the internal prosperity of Zimbabwe and to the survival of many millions of people outside it.

However, while these larger measures still need to be undertaken, possibly within the ambit of something as tremendous as the Brandt proposals, the benefits which will accrue under this order and through the Lomé Convention as it stands are to be welcomed, and welcomed very warmly. Since independence Zimbabwe has indeed been led with great ability and responsibility by Mr. Mugabe and his Government and in approving this order the House will, I am sure, wish to send once more to the Government and people of Zimbabwe our warmest good wishes for their continued progress.

7.11 p.m.

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Goronwy-Roberts, for his very sympathetic reception of this order. He asked a number of detailed questions and made comments on some of the things I said. One thing I should like to tell him at this moment—and if there is anything else which, jointly, we feel I ought to be communicating with him about, I shall of course write—is on the subject of maize and other surpluses. The Community is currently considering in what way it can help Zimbabwe's maize surplus to be made use of in neighbouring countries, but there are major difficulties over transporting the maize. I further understand that in recent weeks Zimbabwe farmers have been able to dispose of a considerable amount of the surplus through commercial contracts. So a small step in this direction is being taken. I, like the noble Lord, should like to see this step made considerably greater, and I am sure that it will be.

The noble Lord also made some very kind remarks about myself. I hope that I shall be worthy of them in a few months' time, but we shall see. But I am very grateful to him for what he said. Of course, we are concerned with the progress, in whatever field, of all Commonwealth countries, and Zimbabwe now, under this régime, is certainly no exception to our commitment to further the aims and objectives of the Commonwealth and to do all that we can in London and Britain to help them along their way, in whatever they seek to do. I shall of course refer the noble Lord's remarks to my honourable and right honourable friends and, as I have said, if I have missed anything that I should have said to him, I shall make full use of the facilities to write to him.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, may I ask him this question? When he used the phrase "other Commonwealth countries", did he mean that the possibility of the maize being exported might help Uganda, which is in such need of both transportation and all forms of food, and in Commonwealth concerns, in the next month or two especially, may be in real need?

Lord Skelmersdale

My Lords, I did not use the word "Commonwealth" in relation to maize. But I am sure that these are some of the things that will be looked at, both here and in the Community in Brussels.

On Question, Motion agreed to.